Iran's membership in SCO strengthened prospect of Asian cooperation: expert

September 20, 2021 - 21:21

TEHRAN - A senior expert on strategic issues says Iran's change of membership from observer to permanent in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has strengthened the perspective of Iran's cooperation with the organization bilaterally and multilaterally.

In an interview with IRNA published on Sunday, Hamed Vafaei explained the grounds for Iran's membership in the SCO.

"There were obstacles to Iran's permanent membership in this organization, which were removed in interaction with other members," Vafaei remarks.

The legal process for Iran's membership in the organization has begun, and China and Russia, as the two heavyweight members, have supported Iran's permanent membership, the expert said.

He stated that regional and international developments were also effective in accepting Iran in the SCO, adding that one of the examples of these developments was the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan.

"The Shanghai organization is a regional organization with a history of security issues and concerns. Given the need to create a security and political balance in the geopolitics of Central Asia and the Middle East, the organization considered it necessary to invite Iran as a permanent member to achieve this balance."

Although at first all the countries in the region welcomed the U.S. withdrawal, in any case, this development will create some security gaps and a division of powers between international and regional players, the China expert added. 

"Therefore, accepting Iran's permanent membership can be examined in the framework of the Shanghai organization's internal affairs and how they interact with Iran and change the international and regional environment."

Regarding the regional and international implications of Iran's membership in the SCO, Vafaei said changes are taking place in the international system, which is referred to as the change of atmosphere from unilateralism to multilateralism.

Today, the world is going through a process that can be called the depletion of power potential from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the analyst highlighted, stressing that developments are taking place in the world and the unsuccessful withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan is one of the obvious results and examples.

The expert said in such an atmosphere, organizations and regional powers and poles and various powers seek to reconsider their role in this new environment.

"There is no doubt on the important role of the Islamic Republic in the region and the effects of our policies on relations with different countries and this is acknowledged by both enemies and friends."

He said it is natural that a regional organization like the SCO, which in some cases analyzes its identity against organizations such as NATO, if there is a vacuum due to non-presence of an important country like Iran, it will not be able to play its role effectively.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the expert reiterated that the SCO, by involving Iran due to the country’s influence on popular movements in the region, would have a greater weight.

If the Shanghai pact is interested in playing a role in the regional coordinates, it definitely needs the presence of Iran as a permanent member, Vafaei noted. "This can definitely be in the regional interest of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and this organization will benefit from the regional and international capacities of the Islamic Republic."

Regarding the prospects of economic, political and security cooperation between Iran and the SCO, he said, Iran's presence in this organization can be analyzed from several aspects.

"First, in terms of bilateral relations, the Islamic Republic of Iran has relations with each member of the organization and regulates these relations based on national interests.

The second dimension is the organization as a whole, in which countries pursue collective ideas, interests, and goals defined in the organization."

The third dimension which he said is “very important” is "the multilateral relations within the Shanghai organization.”

“We already have a structure within the organization; for example, China, Russia and Mongolia had interactions in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization." 

Therefore, Iran has a very broad perspective for cooperation in these three areas, Vafaei underscored.

The faculty member of the University of Tehran also highlighted the time-consuming legal process of Iran's permanent membership in the SCO.

"What we can do is take advantage of this golden opportunity of several months to define areas of cooperation in various fields and interests in bilateral, multilateral and collective areas and create a think tank to plan these issues."

The expert believes that in the field of bilateral relations, strengthening relations with each of the member countries can have benefits for Iran.

By strengthening relations with the SCO, Iran can also propose initiatives in line with the collective interests of all members, Vafaei underlined.

Regarding the dimension of multilateralism within the organization, the China expert said Iran can also sign trilateral agreements with China and Russia, or have multilateral agreements with China, Russia and India, or in any other possible way, in a way that agreements be in line with the interests of each member and the organization as a whole. 

"Iran should seize this golden opportunity to set off future interactions with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization."

Afghanistan developments

Vafaei also referred to the situation in Afghanistan, saying developments in Afghanistan is one of the current concerns of the SCO members, especially those neighboring the country.

"By reviewing the statements of the officials of the various member states of the Shanghai organization, we find out that one of the key words in the speeches of the presidents and heads of states of the member states of the organization was the developments in Afghanistan."

The point that was emphasized by the leaders at the Shanghai summit in Dushanbe is the features of the future government of Afghanistan, the expert noted. "Members of the Shanghai organization, on the other hand, are happy with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, but at the same time, they are concerned about the future of Afghanistan."

The SCO leaders met in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on September 16-17.  Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, also attended the meeting. Some other SCO leaders, such as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, addressed the conference virtually.  

The university professor said the heads of state in the SCO meeting insisted that the next Afghan government should be inclusive and views of all ethnic groups with different tendencies should be taken into consideration.

"My view is that if an inclusive, and comprehensive government is formed in Afghanistan, the members of the Shanghai organization, including Afghanistan's neighbors, will help this government, but if a government is formed outside this framework, this organization and its various members, including the Islamic Republic of Iran and China will face problems.”

It is on the agenda of all SCO members to resolve this Afghan crisis, he added. 

SCO membership and the nuclear talks

Regarding the effects of Iran's permanent membership in the SCO on its relations with the West, Vafaei said: "It is too early to discuss the impact of Iran's permanent membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization because the process of Iran's permanent membership is legally time consuming." 

On the effect of the SCO membership on Tehran’s relations with the West, he said the priorities, needs, and plans of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization must be first assessed. 

This issue is not directly related to the Iranian nuclear issue, Vafaei noted.

He said although different issues in foreign policy would affect each other, they must be viewed separately.

Iran and the P4+1 group (the four permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany that are still party to the 2015 nuclear deal) have consulted on how to revive the deal in the past and would continue the talks in Vienna in the future, Vafaei added. 

"The Shanghai Cooperation Organization's main priority is a regional security, and the Iranian nuclear issue is an issue between Iran and the countries it interacts with. Iran's permanent membership in the organization, and since China and Russia are present in both the Shanghai organization and the nuclear talks, could have an impact on the nuclear talks, but in terms of content, I do not think it will have an impact."

The expert emphasized that if the issue of Iran's nuclear program in some cases raises security concerns for Iran or for other members of the SCO, then the organization may have demands from Iran.

On the other hand, he said, Iran may make some demands from the organization for support or in protest. 

"So in the future, it may be possible to do something diplomatically with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but I do not think it will have a direct impact."

Conflicts between members of SCO manageable

Degree of convergence and cohesion in the SCO was point that Vafaei also referred to in the interview.

"It is natural that the Shanghai member states, like any other organization, have differences. One of the missions that China has defined for itself is to prevent the impact of internal conflicts on the collective goals of this organization, because there are goals and programs in the framework of collective interests for this organization that these conflicts can prevent their realization."

He pointed out that this was one of the difficulties in managing regional and international organizations like the Shanghai pact, in which countries with sometimes conflicting interests are present. In such cases, he remarked, the role of influential countries in the organization such as China and Russia to lead and manage the differences is highlighted.

The university professor said: "The important point is that the presence of countries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has been done with a convergent view and both India and Pakistan and China, Iran, Russia and other countries have joined the organization with the prospect of creating regional convergence." 

Therefore, it seems that in areas that are of concern to the organization, countries can facilitate the achievement of collective goals by ignoring and overcoming their conflicts and differences, the expert concluded.

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